April 30, 2015



The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs

1.  Six Provocative Questions

The best leaders pose powerful questions to others. In strategy+business, Eric J. McNulty, research director at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative in the U.S., shares six he has garnered from top leaders:

  • What do you think? Art director John Jay asked it of McNulty when he was a young subordinate. It opened up a conversation on the commercial mission of their work at Bloomingdale’s and the importance of artistic integrity.
  • Do we think… or do we know? Gary Loveman, the Harvard data expert who went on to lead Harrah’s Entertainment, likes to stress that assumptions should be tested and decisions based on evidence, not hunches.
  • How are we doing? Leonard Marcus, director of Harvard’s Program for Health Care Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, asks this question when encountering someone he has trained in the field. It gets to the heart of the emotional and operational challenges at hand.
  • How am I doing? Legendary New York Mayor Ed Koch constantly sought feedback on his performance from his constituents, helping him push past his natural introversion.
  • What does this mean over the long term? Harvard Business School Professor Emeritus Michael Beer feels the intense focus these days on short-term results can impair an organization’s ability to create long-term value. The question encourages that broader perspective.
  • How can I be helpful? Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick repeated this question in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, declining to assert control of operational decisions by various policing authorities but backing them.

2. Improving Your Hiring Practices

Choosing the right candidate when recruiting sometimes comes down to luck, according to consultant Tony Beshara. But developing better hiring practices can increase your chances of being lucky. Here’s what he recommends on the ThoughtLeadersLLC blog:

  • Interview more candidates rather than fewer. That doesn’t mean interviewing 20 candidates for every position. But include individuals who may appear to be borderline candidates since one of these dark horses could bring the luck you need.
  • Focus on how the candidates have either been successful, or thwarted despite great promise. What role was played by their working environment, their co-workers, or the work demanded of them? How did they progress in the job and why? What helped them to grow in the job (and will that continue to assert itself as a factor)? Understand how they operate best.
  • Consider the candidate’s progress in life. Are they at a point in life where they might catch fire? Tail off?
  • Evaluate what kind of mentoring relationship you might develop with the individual. Often you can sense a bond will form between you that will improve their performance. “When we become mentors, rather than just bosses, our employees perform better,” he notes.
  • Give yourself the benefit of the doubt if your instinct indicates you’ll be lucky with this individual — if it has the makings of a good hire. But don’t hesitate to keep them on a short string, and cut your losses if the hiring was a mistake.

3. Tips For Improving Meetings

When you begin a meeting, start by deciding as a group how long the session should last. That’s one of a series of tips journalist Zena Barakat culled from interviews about the bane of organizational life — meetings. Other ideas she shares on the Stanford web site for John S. Knight journalism fellows:

  • Make sure you create something together in the meeting rather than just share information.
  • Have participants bring a question to the meeting they want to ask their team. That allows everyone’s brainpower to be put into solving problems.
  • Don’t invite everyone. In creative efforts, some people can be destructive. Or they are very helpful in some parts of the process and unhelpful in others. Invite them to the right sessions.
  • Bring in an outsider. Invite experts from outside your organization who might help you see issues from a different angle.
  • End by clarifying what decisions have been made and how you will communicate them.

4. Marketing: The Ground Has Shifted (Twice)

Advertising expert Roy H. Williams says the ground has shifted under marketers’ feet twice in recent decades. The first shakeup was gender equality, which helps women to be independent of men, establishing a career and a life on their own. A continent of families is becoming one of individuals.

The second change was technological — the erosion of mass media, which in the past brought us together and gave advertisers a platform for telling their stories.

He suspects that, in five to seven years, retail and service businesses will be forced to begin playing by a whole new set of rules that today are unclear. “But this we do know: the sharply rising costs of digital advertising are not being offset by a rise in efficiency,” he warns on The Monday Morning Memo.

5. Zingers

  • Doing Homework: 54% of Canadians said in a survey they take work home, averaging an additional seven hours a week. Over a year, that’s an extra nine 40-hour work weeks. (Source: Monday Morning Motivator)
  • The Accidental Networker: No networking is sometimes the best networking. Ryan Holmes, Hootsuite’s CEO, says that every so often at a conference, you should stop racing from event to event, relax, and let spontaneous encounters happen randomly. (Source: LinkedIn)
  • Mum’s The Message: More than 50% of a leader’s communication is non-verbal, observes Vivek Gupta, CEO of Zensar Technologies. Everything you do —even the way you smile and how often— matters. (Source: New York Times)
  • When Failure Frightens: Fear of failure prevents leaders from acknowledging failure. The result, says trainer Dan Rockwell, is that leaders put their heads down and work harder when things aren’t going well, rather than acknowledging something is not working (and which is not the same as quitting). Another mistake: Failing to forgive others and give them a second chance. (Source: Leadership Freak)
  • Don’t focus on the average: Entrepreneur Seth Godin says every committee or organization has at least one well-meaning person who is pushing to make things average. That individual —on behalf of the masses, the people who don’t care— wants to make things worse, dumbing an idea down or oversimplifying. “It’s true that the remarkable, edgy stuff we wanted to make wasn’t going to be embraced by everyone. But everyone is rarely the point anymore,” he says. (Source: Seth’s Blog)

6.  Q&A with 8020Info:  Get More From Strategic Planning

Question:  How can I leverage more benefits from a strategic plan?

8020Info President and CEO Rob Wood responds:

Strategic planning activities should help build an organization-wide understanding of what fundamental issues or future choices you see as being critical to your future over the next 3 to 5 years. It involves making sense of the changing environment, and choosing specific directions for action. Beyond the core value of getting a plan in place, here are 7 other potential benefits:

  • Buy-in for Implementation: Strategic planning offers an opportunity to engage more than just the top leaders in your organization —it can include staff, partners or clients— and to get their “buy-in” for the vision and goals. This helps a lot with future implementation.
  • Shining Light in Dark Corners: Strategic planning offers a chance to review things we do “just because we’ve always done it” — it may be time to stop investing time, money and other resources on unimportant activities.
  • Framework for Policy Decisions: Many organizations use their strategic plan as a filter for policy decisions since it offers a framework of priorities established through consultation and supported through consensus. They may use it as a test: “Is the recommendation before us in line with our priorities and where we want to go, as identified in our strategic plan?”
  • Signalling to Partners: As a formal document with communications value, a strategic plan gives guidance to the organization internally, and external partners and the community in general about where your are going and what your priorities are: that way, others know where your organization stands as they make their own plans or before approaching you with a request.
  • Profile for Your Plans: Strategic planning processes can effectively engage the community and give you profile for your leadership and plans during a low-profile period.
  • Magnet for Information: The work of strategy development often pulls together in one place, from many different sources, all the essential information you will need to track or reference for on-going decision-making.
  • Driving Change: Strategic planning can provide a vehicle for driving change in specific areas of interest or concern, such as operations or programming; staffing structure, roles and job definition; marketing or technology priorities; future demands on budget, funding/revenue options and/or opportunities for cost-savings; communications with priority audiences; or alignment of the organization’s directions with external values, priorities and support.

7.  News From Our Water Cooler:  A Sales Lesson in 60 Seconds

This past weekend we were in New York and got a 60-second lesson in six great sales principles.  We were waiting at the busy TKTS service at Times Square to buy tickets for an off-Broadway play when a man approached us in the line-up:

  • First, he asked whether we realized that in our line-up, we could buy tickets only for plays (no musicals, comedies and so on). Lesson #1: The question qualified us as prospects and provided genuinely useful advice that helped position him immediately as a person with knowledge and authority and as someone we could trust.
  • When we mentioned that we did plan to see a play, Churchill, he suggested that if we’d like to see Hand To God (the Tony-nominated play, it turned out, that he was promoting), we could see it the next day. Lesson #2:  In other words, he instantly realized we were already committed to a competitor and moved to his next best offer.
  • He went on to mention that Hand to God was rapidly selling out, which helped establish “social proof” (other play-goers seemed to love it) and also a sense of urgency (buy tickets for this additional show before there were no seats left!) — that gave us Lessons #3 and #4.
  • He then turned away to the rest of the line and called out the news that some other play had just sold out. (Ticket availabilities were available in real time on his smartphone.) What better moment to promote his offer than when someone who has already decided to see a play, and is ready to make a purchase, finds out their first choice is no longer available? Lesson #5: He used perfect timing to pitch his play as an alternative.
  • He was great at doing street intercepts and even better at promoting his play with —Lesson #6— a warm and friendly, helpful tone integral to great customer care. And we got a wonderful first-hand experience in seeing the techniques of personal selling demonstrated in less than a minute.

8.  Closing Thought:

“A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”

— John Le Carré